Wins For Washington (State): Transport Bill Resolves Two Local Debates

Tucked into the transportation spending bill that Congress approved over the weekend are two wins for Washington state's senior senator, Patty Murray (D), who chairs the upper chamber's transport budget-writing panel.

2003992830.jpgSen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Photo: Seattle Times)

Murray's first victory deals with Bush-era rules for charter buses that barred local transit agencies from providing cheaper service to special events, such as sports games or local concerts.

The charter bus rules, written to help give private companies a leg up over publicly funded transit, have adversely affected Minnesotans and D.C. residents, among others. But next year's transportation spending bill gives a particular pass to the transit agency in King County, WA, allowing the company to continue its bus service to Seattle Mariners games.

Murray's Senate version of the spending bill ended the charter bus rule "in the state of Washington," but the final version of the legislation used less specific language: An exemption was given to "any transit agency who during fiscal year 2008 was both initially granted a 60-day period to come into compliance with [the rules], and then was subsequently granted an extension."

In a statement to the Post-Intelligencer newspaper, Murray cheered the local rollback of the bus transit rule:

This rule has gotten between fans and an affordable, convenient way to get to games in our region. My provision will not only restore Metro service on game days, it will help reduce congestion throughout the city. Especially now, as our economy struggles, we can't stick fans with steep fares and sub-par service on their way to support our local teams.

The moral of the story: It's good to have a transit advocate in the Senate Democratic leadership.

But Murray's second victory could apply beyond her home state. The final transport spending bill preserves language she crafted that would require the federal government, when calculating matching funds for a project that combines multiple modes (e.g. roads and transit or ports and transit), to consider the entire local contribution.

Murray's move was aimed at boosting the prospects for the transit portion of the Columbia River Crossing, which recently had its $4 billion-plus price tag cut amid high-level criticism of its highway lane expansion.